Why I hate first round wide receivers


The 1996 draft was one of the more remarkable drafts in NFL history. There were five wide receivers drafted in the first round, and the worst of those was probably Eddie Kennison (only 2 1,000 yard seasons).* Teams have tried to replicate the phenomenal success of the 1996 draft since then, but without comparable results.
To get a better idea of what kind of wideout the Titans might get with the #24 pick, let’s take a look at the WRs drafted within 5 slots of that pick in the next 10 years:
1997-27th Rae Carruth
1998-21st Randy Moss
2000-21st Sylvester Morris
2000-29th R. Jay Soward
2001-25th Freddie Mitchell
2002-19th Ashley Lelie
2002-20th Javon Walker
2004-29th Michael Jenkins
2005-21st Matt Jones
2005-22nd Mark Clayton
2005-27th Roddy White
2006-25th Santonio Holmes
Of those dozen players, four have had 1,000 yards at least one times in a single season: Randy Moss, Javon Walker, Ashley Lelie, Roddy White, and Moss is the only one who’s done it more than twice. Let’s compare that to the list of busts:
Rae Carruth (22 games, 804 career yards, currently in prison)
Sylvester Morris (didn’t play after his rookie season)
R. Jay Soward (see Sylvester Morris)
Freddie Mitchell (17 starts in 4 years, career high 498 yards)
Michael Jenkins (career high 532 yards, lost starting job in 4th season)
Matt Jones (5 starts in 3 years, then cut by drafting team)
That’s half of the WRs drafted 19-29 in the 1997-2006 time frame, and NONE had a single season in their entire career as good as Roydell Williams and Justin Gage did last year. And, when WRs bust out, they really bust out. And, except for Jenkins and perhaps Jones, it’s not like any of those guys were particularly useful for more than a brief period of time.
The bottom line is that 1st round picks are a hugely valuable commodity in the NFL. Perhaps the best way to turn that valuable commodity away into a risky spin of the roulette wheel is to spend that pick on a WR. Except, well, the roulette wheel gives you a pretty good return if you hit. First round WRs, not necessarily so. Perhaps none of Thomas, Sweed, and Jackson will bust. Perhaps all of them will. History tells us that at least one of them will, and that team will have wasted its pick. Titans, please don’t be that team.
*-The 1996 draft is the strongest WR draft in history. Non-first round WRs included Bobby Engram, Muhsin Muhammad, Joe Horn, and Terrell Owens. Normalized to league average, not including 2007, it had 10% more receptions and yards than any other WR class in history. For more information, check out the chapter on them in Pro Football Prospectus 2007.


9 Responses to “Why I hate first round wide receivers”

  1. kevin b Says:

    Tom , I think like you about wide outsin the draft, you must be my “mental twin” i know that great wide outs and the oilers/titians offense dont mix (most times) i have all of the same opinions as you do. We have a better history with a RB s or defense playesr, our best receier is normalY a TE. the type of player that can impact day one. if we can get a “steal” running back out of this he could push or fat boy to levels he achived at USC…… think about it fellow my titian fans we could have a high gear run ofense like the steelers or cowboys had/have ( meaning a1-2 punch or thunder lighting combo) any way i am glad somebody see it the way i do “great job/read tom” !!

  2. jrtitans Says:

    This is why I like this site–you guys always have the facts. Im thinking Defense all the way on the first round.

  3. Garland Says:

    What does the boom/bust list look like for other positions?

  4. Tom Gower Says:

    I’ve only run defensive linemen for the same period, and it’s harder to judge productivity for them. I don’t remember the numbers offhand, but I believe 4 or 5 out of the 19 drafted weren’t at least as good a DL as Ashley Lelie was a WR. There are a couple true busts (Lamar King), but the downside is generally somebody who’s a rotation-type guy. Think somebody like John McCargo-26th overall in 2006 by BUF, viewed as a reach when taken, 29 tackles, 2.5 sacks last year.
    Other positions? I haven’t looked at them as seriously, but here are quick takes. QB can be a huge crapshoot, most 1st round RBs are at least decent, TEs are generally good but rarely drafted, most linemen are ok-guards are generally good guards while tackles are more hit and miss (Kenyatta Walker), LBs are normally ok, Safeties are like TEs, and CB is another crapshoot, especially at the back half of the first round (Mike Rumph).
    I’m still working on the Grand Unified Theory of Drafting, not that I’ll ever finish it. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that teams outside the top 10 or so draft much more for need than they do the best player on the board.

  5. David H. Says:

    I still like us taking DeSean Jackson after reading that. Tom, I think your article is well thought out and articulate however, I still feel we have to try and find somebody to help this team achieve more on offense and special teams. When you think about it, Derrick Mason (a fifth round pick) was the only receiver we drafted that turned out to be an outstanding WR and pro bowler at that. I know that supports your statements and I’m contradicting myself, but when have we ever taken a good look at first round talent at that position. For us, Derrick Mason type wide outs come once every 8 years or so. In this round there are two guys (DeSean Jackson and Devin Thomas) who could both fall to us at 24 that can contribute the same way via punt or kickoff returns. The jury is still out on Roydell Williams, Brandon Jones, Paul Williams and Chris Davis. The bottom line is we haven’t selected a wide out in the first round in ten years. I think it’s a risk worth taking. I kinda agree with Drex, in that when it comes to drafting a WR, we should look for quality over quantity. Id rather take a chance on a guy who has first round talent, then waste two or more picks on mid round guys (most likely from small schools) who probably won’t see the field (see Paul Williams). Think about what kind of player we could have gotten with that third round pick last year. We could have drafted another corner, because at this time last year we knew that Pac wouldn’t be there for the season. We could have drafted another O-lineman, knowing that Benji’s back problems would only get worse as he got older, and especially knowing that Kevin Mawae is damn near 37 years old. We even could’ve drafted another D-lineman knowing that Haynesworth, Odom, and Laboy were all entering into the final years of their respective contracts. No matter how you freakin slice it, the draft is all a gamble. You never know who will pan out, who will surprise, and who will bust. But Id sleep better at night as GM knowing that I got one of the most talented draft prospects in the first round. I would take DeSean in the first, and pray to god that Chris Johnson falls to us in the second. If DeSean is drafted by us, he is easily the fastest WR we’ve ever had in the team’s history. Even if he doesn’t work out as a full time receiver, his return ability is undeniable and he can instantly contribute in that capacity.

  6. Dan Says:

    I just saw on espn that ed weider reported that titans have agreed in principle to trade pacman to the cowboys, it did not say for what pick.

  7. Dan Says:

    srry http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3364138

  8. David H. Says:

    One more thing I forgot to add… Three years ago the Titans drafted a boy out of Texas with the intention of him not only finishing what his mentor and the Titan franchise’s best quarterback started, but to take this franchise to a completely different level. Since we drafted Vince, he has put together a rookie of the year season (with not the best of help around him), one playoff birth, and shown the potential at times of being a future star. I don’t know about you guys but that sounds like he set the bar pretty high for himself and also that he is our primary investment. In two off seasons, they haven’t done much to protect that investment. His rookie campaign was not an aberration and I think he can do it again if not better. But the bottom line is he can’t do it alone. The very thought of us taking a defensive player in the first round when we had a defense that was ranked in the top ten overall just completely astounds me. Defense dose win championships but, 9 touchdown passes won’t!!!

  9. Lee R Says:

    David, Good point with your conclusion. I blame Chow for those 9 TD’s. He obviously didn’t know how to use Young. I would favor a OT, OG, 1st Round pick over anything. The offensive line is the most underrated & unappreciated part of the game. If all the good ones are gone by then, then take a DT, if Balmer, Ellis, Merling are gone. My argument is we need more depth for our next few years on defense so we CAN win playoff games. Jared Mayo and several other key defensive players will be available at #24 and I am sure there will be plenty of WRs to fall in the second round. If all I mentioned are gone, I guess Jackson will do. I hope our GM Mike can make the RIGHT PICK this year! OH AND Time to celebrate Titans, CHOW & PAC are gone; my last wish is to trade up/ down for Roy Williams/ or Chad Johnson. Go Titans!

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